Uproar over new rosters


Hunter New England plan gets thumbs down from local nurses

Hunter New England nurses have given the thumbs down to a proposed new roster system. They say it is inflexible, will undermine their ability to balance work and family life and force nurses out of the profession.

The Hunter New England Area Health Service (HNEAHS) wants to introduce ‘responsive rostering’ or ‘pattern rosters’ across the Greater Newcastle Acute Hospital Network – the John Hunter, John Hunter Children’s, Royal Newcastle Centre, Belmont and Maitland hospitals – and mental health services.

The new system will then be rolled out across the AHS, including New England hospitals and community health services.

A NSWNA survey of 4,800 Hunter New England members resulted in 4,105 nurses returning the survey form. The overwhelming majority expressed opposition or concerns, with a massive 76.5% saying they would leave nursing if required to work a pattern roster.

Under the plan, the HNEAHS would decide rosters in conjunction with nurse managers. Each nurse would generally work the same number of day and night shifts.

Rosters would then be entered into a centralised computer program and fixed for a minimum three months. Shifts could only be changed by swapping with other nurses after the roster is drawn up.

The strength of members’ opposition to the new pattern rostering system was shown when more than 400 members turned up on a Thursday night to a Branch meeting in Newcastle to discuss the new rostering system. More than 100 members also turned up to a Branch meeting in Tamworth.

‘The number of members who turned up to the Branch meetings to discuss the new rostering system is unprecedented. We have never had such a strong turnout at a Branch meeting before, let alone one held on a weekday night,’ said Brett.

‘The NSWNA has never had such a passionate and determined response from members on any other issue,’ he said.

At the mass meetings at Newcastle and Tamworth nurses overwhelmingly opposed the new system and the NSW Industrial Relations Commission is now involved in facilitating consultation.

NSWNA General Secretary, Brett Holmes, said management would be foolish to ignore the depth of opposition.

‘The clear message from members is that pattern rosters represent a potential crisis in the delivery of nursing care in the HNEAHS,’ Brett said.

‘Providing some roster flexibility is a key part of retaining and attracting nurses and midwives,’ he said.

‘Having a rigid pattern, which does not adequately take into account people’s family, study and other legitimate commitments, will force many to opt out of the profession. That is the last thing we need at the moment as we struggle to overcome the nurse shortage.

‘Members are particularly concerned that the proposed system takes away the current right of nurses to request particular shifts and roster patterns – prior to the roster being drawn up – which take into account their needs outside work.

‘Despite what the HNEAHS says, forcing nurses to request changes after the roster is done will make life very difficult for nurses and their managers alike. Making changes at that stage is much harder.’

Brett said the HNEAHS claimed the new system would help ensure adequate staffing and result in a better mix of staff skills.

‘However, these issues should be addressed now through the existing mechanisms of the reasonable workloads clause of the nurses’ award,’ Brett said.

‘Managers already have the option to change their staffing around to make sure it is safe with the right skill mix.

‘The AHS tells us that some managers have issues with rostering. If that’s the case, then why aren’t they educating and supporting those managers in how to roster better?’

Brett said HNE Area executive purchased the ‘pattern roster’ program from an external company called workforce edge inc., without any discussion with nurses or the Association about the appropriateness of pattern rostering.

‘Contrary to a consistent line run in the media by the HNE Area executive, the Association was only invited to participate in the implementation process of the pattern roster system,’ he said.

Brett said that contrary to rumours, the introduction of pattern rosters was never discussed as a trade-off for a wage rise in its current negotiations with the Health Department.

‘Members’ branch officials have been, and will be, present at all meetings between the Association and the Area in relation to this issue,’ he stressed.

Brett warns the threat of this inflexible roster system hangs over all public health system members.

‘If we don’t remain determined in our opposition to this new, inflexible roster system in the NHEAHS, it may well be introduced in other Areas across NSW,’ he said.